Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Fear and Filtering in Samoa

"I want you to understand that this man at the wheel is my attorney! He's not just some dingbat I found on the Strip. Shit, look at him! He doesn't look like you or me, right? That's because he's a foreigner. I think he's probably Samoan. But it doesn't matter, does it? Are you prejudiced?"
Hunter S. Thompson - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

BBC News brings an interesting story on the national ICT strategy of the Pacific island of Samoa, which seeks "internet for all" to boost the economy. The story reveals some sparks of prejudism towards the internet, though maybe prejudism is a too harsh a word here. Fear for a decline of the cultural heritage and national values under pressure of the global network might be a more subtle description. The Dean of the Faculty of Science and the National University of Samoa says it as follows:
"One of the things that I worry about is how this exposure is going to impact on the culture. [...] We're exposing ourselves to a whole lot of philosophies and ways of life, bringing in a lot of western values."
Yesterday I noted in relation to the Yahoo! case the clash of speech values between western countries, notably the U.S. and Europe/France. The clash of values, be they cultural or political, can be a reason for states to fence out the net. Possibilities are geolocation, as in the Yahoo! case, or national gateways like "The Great Firewall of China". The effectiveness of these techniques is debatable, but they are employed to fence out dissident and/or unwanted speech. Porn is, as always, seen as the great smut the internet generates, and for many a country outlawed. No difference there for Samoa, or at least its Prime-Minister:
"The internet is OK so long as we impose the necessary controls to cut out pornography which would be damaging for our people. [...] This aspect of control will always be with us."
He has proposed to implement a national filter, but this technical code solution has been dropped for a tightening of traditional, legal code: the punishment of anyone downloading pornography. In Saudi Arabia similar concerns did result in national filtering, which is described by its government as "preserv[ing] our Islamic values, filtering the Internet content to prevent the materials that contradict with our beliefs or may influence our culture."

I guess the political and religious motivation, driven by a fear of globalization, are present in Samoa. Maybe if the internet does boost the local economy, they will find the resources to implement national filtering, despite technical difficulties. But then there's nothing which a Samoan attorney can't fix. Or am I prejudiced now?

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